HELLBOY AND THE B.P.R.D. #1
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Alex Maleev
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: December 3, 2014
It seems like I’m on a paranormal sort of kick these days.
I recently started watching NBC’s Constantine. (And I just re-watched the 2005 Keanu Reeves version this weekend.) The latest issues of Tom Taylor’s Injustice: Gods Among Us have featured magical characters heavily. I was also pretty into the first issue of Gotham by Midnight, which is focused on the more occult aspects of what happens in Gotham City.
With these sort of patterns in my life, I found myself, in a way, unsurprised when the opportunity arose to check out the start of the most recent Hellboy series. Magic would have you believe there are no coincidences and since I’d always been meaning to read a Hellboy book, it only made sense that the one I started with was the one in which Hellboy gets his start as an agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense — the B.P.R.D.
If you’re new to the franchise like me, you may need some catching up. My pre-existing knowledge of who Hellboy is and what he does has basically come from the two Ron Perlman films and a smattering of Tumblr posts, but I’ll give it a shot.
Hellboy is a demon who, as a child, was summoned by Nazi occultists in 1944 and ultimately rescued by a German professor, Trevor Butterholm, who would go on to found the B.P.R.D., an NGO basically responsible for protecting the world from paranormal threats. In Mike Mignola’s first issue, we get some of this back story but most of the narrative time is spent with Hellboy as an adult and what he deals with in the modern era.
It’s only relatively recently that Mignola has partnered up with John Arcudi to write some of these earlier stories. The two have been working on the B.P.R.D. miniseries since 2003 and 1946, a five-issue miniseries featuring an infant Hellboy, came out in 2008, followed by 1947 in 2010, and 1948 just last year in 2013.
This newest series features Hellboy on his very first mission as a BPRD agent—though I have to admit, it doesn’t feel as though there’s much new about it.
Even coming into the comic with little more than knowledge of the films, much of the ground covered in this first issue was material I felt I had already seen before, so I can only imagine that longtime Hellboy fans might find this a little frustrating.
Legacy comics are always at risk of origin story fatigue — I can only watch Thomas and Martha Wayne get shot in an alley so many times before I start to yawn — but it’s relatively rare to get that experience from a hero that’s only been around for about ten years. I really wanted to get to the action, to get to how Hellboy becomes who he is, but Mignola and Arcudi seem to be playing a much slower game as this first issue was largely set-up.
Even if I hadn’t known much about the Hellboy world, the ending to the issue isn’t incredibly compelling. I read it three times and two of the three times I kept trying to scroll further because I forgot that was where things had been left. That might speak to my short-term memory, but I do think an ending should feel like one, cliffhanger or no.
In a similar fashion, the content of the issue itself fell a bit flat for me as well. Everything happened exactly as I expected it to and was just a little bit too true to form when it comes to the paranormal or the supernatural. It ticks all the trope boxes but never takes the next step of subverting, diverting, or even lamp-shading them. This isn’t to say that a book can’t have tropes in it or that all narratives have to be experimental, but I don’t think it unreasonable to expect some deviation from the norm, especially in a title that’s about exactly that — the paranormal.
Still, even with tropes aside, the issue is successful in setting the mood for the rest of the series — and much of that has to do with artist Alex Maleev. Readers likely know him from his work on Daredevil or his depiction of the famous ending to Marvel’s Civil War event. He’s worked on Hellboy before, having done a single issue in 2003 — and I imagine I’m going to have to go and look that issue up later, because he’s really nailed the atmosphere.
One of the many distinctive things about Hellboy has been Mike Mignola’s artistic style, so I was a bit disappointed that my first venture into the franchise would be on a book that was drawn by someone else. Maleev, as expected, more than made up for it. He’s got a great sense of shadow, which he uses in some fascinating ways.
Agent Archie Muraro, for example, is drawn such that you almost never see his eyes, and instead only get the shadow created by his very heavy brow. It’s an incredibly effective technique that characterizes the agent while contributing to the shadowy nature and feel of a supernatural comic. Read the issue a couple times and you’ll notice exactly how much of the page is dictated by a shadow and yet not dominated by it. There’s not a single point where it feels overdone or pandering for an effect, which I think is quite a feat.
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. #1 is, in my mind, an opening narration. It’s not badly written or badly crafted, but it also doesn’t really do what a first issue should. I was left waiting for something to happen rather than wanting to know what would happen next. There’s certainly potential for the series to move forward, now that all the pieces are in play, but this issue alone might not be compelling enough for a new fan and likely won’t bring anything new to an old one.